I was in a matatu on my way to Ngong’ from Nairobi town when I received a call from a strange number. The caller identified himself as a debt collector. He wanted to know when I was planning to pay a loan that I had acquired from one of the many mobile money loan apps in Kenya. The loan was overdue by a week.
I told him that I didn’t have the money now, but I was planning to pay it back within a week.
“A week is too long.”
“I don’t have the money right now.”
“Find a way to pay the money before the end of the week. If you don’t, we’ll hunt you down. I know where you work. I know where you live. I have your siblings’ and most of your relative’s numbers. I know the friends you call often.”
He hung up.
I started experiencing a shooting pain in my stomach, it felt like a heart attack, but it was lower in my gut. I felt this pressure coming down, and I literally felt like someone was sitting on my neck. My palms started sweating, my body was shaking & shivering. I was frozen in fear.
That was mid-2018.
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How had I gotten myself in this debt situation?
At that point in my life, I was stuck neck-deep in debt. I owed friends, had multiple loans from the mobile money apps, I had a student loan (HELB) and of course, I was financially illiterate.
That life-threatening call was my wake up call. I needed to save myself, fast!
I started thinking about how I’d gotten to a point where I owed so much money.
How is it that I had zero savings?
How was I, a single lady with no kids unable to afford my lifestyle yet I had a job?
Why was I living paycheck to paycheck?
Had I failed at adulting?
Debt payoff planner and debt payment calculator
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How I paid my Higher Education Loans Board student debt in 4.5 years
I’m the kind of person who’s afraid of breaking the law. I might be a rebel, but I fear ending up in jail. I know this is extreme, but fear combined with ignorance has a way of blowing things out of proportion.
So when I got my first job in November 2016, I took up the responsibility of registering my employer with HELB so they could deduct my loan from my salary every month, although I was poorly paid.
KES 3,000 was deducted from my paycheck every month from December 2016. I paid that amount diligently up to November 2018.
From December 2018 up to April 2020, I didn’t make a payment.
For most of that time, I wasn’t permanently employed. I had temporary jobs and gigs which meant that I was literally struggling to pay bills and other expenses. I couldn’t afford to pay my bills, make a payment towards the HELB loan, and pay back all other mobile money loans and money owed to friends.
But within that period of time, I managed to get my financial ducks in a row by:
- Educating myself on personal finance & investing by reading personal finance books.
- Creating a budget that works and sticking to it.
- Building an emergency fund.
- Starting a retirement fund.
- Started investing every month.
- Writing about money on this blog.
- Paying back all loans owed to friends and the mobile money loans.
You can read more about that journey here.
You don’t have to do it all. Debt freedom and financial freedom journeys are a marathon, not a sprint. Pace yourself.
I resumed paying my HELB loan in May 2020. At this point, I was in the right mindset, was more financially stable and had a better, stable job. I could afford to tackle the student loan debt.
By May 2020, I owed KES 218,535.42. You can also check your HELB loan statement to know how much you owe. By consulting my budget, I could afford to pay KES 10,000 every month. With this plan, my debt-free date was set to February 2022.
Having a plan and a debt-freedom date was exciting which kept me disciplined.
Then my blog started making money…
As I’ve always preached on this blog, for most of us, it’s impossible to build wealth by selling our time for money (which is what you do at your 9 – 5 job). You need to find ways to make money while you sleep through side hustles & investing consistently.
By consistently publishing content on this blog, I started making money in 3 ways:
Google pays me for placing ads on this blog.
Affiliate marketing is the process by which you earn a commission by selling other people’s products or services. For example, when I recommend the best books on Amazon, I earn a commission. This happens automatically, day or night!
I learnt how to create a successful blog that makes consistent passive income (earning money while I sleep) by investing in the Launch Your Blog Biz online course by professional bloggers Lauren & Alex from Create & Go who make over $10,000 per month from their two blogs.
If you have always wanted to learn how to create and grow a successful blog without being a tech guru or a pro writer that makes over $1,000 per month, sign up for their course.
I help people who: are struggling with debt, are unable to make budgets that work, want to grow their savings, want to improve the quality of their lives and people who are looking to diversify their investment portfolio to attain financial freedom by offering personalized financial advisory.
I used all the money earned from financial coaching to pay off my HELB loan.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how I managed to attain debt-freedom 10 months ahead of my planned date!
I attained debt freedom on Thursday, 8th April 2021 at 1505 hours! I later received my clearance certificate from HELB.
How much, in total, did I pay to HELB?
The principal Opening balance as of 25/07/2016 was 220,000.00. This is the total amount of money that I received from HELB throughout the 4 years of my studies.
The Interest Opening balance as of 25/07/2016 was 20,573.10
The government started charging interest even before I graduated!
On the HELB website, they state that one of the loanees obligations is “ to start repayment after a period of one year on completion of studies, or within such a period as the Board may decide to recall the loan whichever is the earlier (Section 15 HELB Act)” I wish they gave us a grace period of that 1 year to secure a job before they start charging interest.
HELB loan charges 4% interest per year.
Total owed: KES 240,573.10
Due to the 4% p.a interest and KES 1,000 yearly ledger fees, I paid KES 279,041.00 in total.
I could have paid at least KES 359,041 if they had charged me kes 5,000 per month penalty fees for not making payments between December 2018 up to April 2020.
That is, 16 months * 5,000 = 80,000
80,000 + 279,042 = 359,041
Remember that the above figure is not inclusive of interest rates that would have been charged on the 80,000!
They didn’t charge me any penalties because I resumed my payments in April 2020, in the middle of a pandemic.
Why I think the government should forgive all HELB loans
Despite the fact that I made immense sacrifices to pay off my loan, I still believe that the government should do away with all HELB loans. Kenyans pay taxes. Our taxes should be used to educate all Kenyan children, for free. As Dr Wandia Njoya said, the government owes our children education, not the other way around.
The reason why education is a service, and not a product like clothes to sell, is because education is about people. Making people owe the government for being educated is the same as asking them to pay for being born. Education is what makes us human beings who live in dignity, and that is why education is an inalienable right. There is no nation, no society, no humanity without education. – Dr Wandia Njoya
What if, as a Kenyan graduate, I didn’t have to bear the burden of paying that loan?
What if the government took up their responsibility of educating me?
What would have happened if I had that 240,573.10 on 25/07/2016 to invest in my future as opposed to having debt as my introduction to adulthood?
Let’s use a compound interest calculator to do the Math…
Principal amount: 240,573.10
Monthly Contribution: 0.00
Annual Interest rate: 10% (a very conservative rate)
Time: 4 years, 10 months.
Final value (after compounding): Ksh. 381,218.29
By doing this Math, you realize the damage the system has on your overall financial well-being and your net worth.
That being said, I don’t regret taking that loan because that’s the only way I could fund my education.
FAQs about HELB
1. How do you get a penalty waiver for HELB?
One of my plans was to wait for HELB to announce a waiver, in which case I would liquidate one of my short-term investments and use the money to clear my loan.
One of the things I noticed about the new HELB students’ portal and the app is that all loanees are eligible for an 80% waiver, any time of the year as long as you can clear your loan in a lump sum within 30 days of receiving your statement.
You can clear your loan in one instalment.
2. How do I check my HELB loan status?
Log in to your student portal for all services: compliance certificate, loan statement, loan repayment and penalty waiver.
If you don’t have access to a smartphone, you can check your loan status using the HELB USSD code *642#
3. When do I begin repayments?
‘Loan repayment starts within one year of completion of studies or within such a period as the Board decides to recall the loan whichever is earlier. However, you can make voluntary payments before or after you complete your studies to reduce your loan balance.’
4. What is the minimum HELB repayment amount?
I contacted HELB about this. They said that ‘when employed, it is dependent on how much you earn while the minimum payment while unemployed is Ksh. 3,000 per month.’ You have to make this minimum payment every month to avoid the penalties.
5. How do I repay my HELB loan?
If you’re not employed, in which case your employer deducts your HELB payment before your salary hits your account, you risk forgetting to make a payment. This will lead to the hefty KES 5,000 penalty per month.
To avoid this, automate your payments by signing up for a standing order. A standing order is an instruction that you give your banker to pay a certain amount to another account. In this case, the instruction will be to automatically pay HELB whichever amount you choose, every month.
Automating your debt payment, saving and investing decisions is one of the habits that will make you wealthy this year.
6. What happens if I default?
For each month that you do not make a payment, you pay a fine of KES 5,000.
7. Why charge ledger fees?
Ledger fees are for the maintenance of your account (rolls eyes).
8. How do I receive my completion/clearance certificate?
By sending an email requesting for your statement to firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling the contact centre on 0711052000.
9. What happens if I change employer?
You should continue repaying your loan with the new employer.
10. What if I choose not to pay or to postpone my payment?
Once in a while, I meet people who opt not to pay back their loan or postpone their payment.
Recently, a friend told me that she’s not planning to pay the loan anytime soon because our government steals 2 billion per day from us anyway. She doesn’t want to fund a corrupt government.
Her reasoning is valid, it’s up to her to decide how to navigate her financial planning.
While I don’t work for the government, I’d urge you to think about:
- The 4% interest rate that compounds annually
- The KES 1,000 annual ledger fees
- The KES 60,000 annual penalty
- The fact that HELB states that you only have 10 years after completion of studies to pay back your loan.
They say that loan repayment is your responsibility.
From a finance perspective, the longer you postpone, the more it’ll cost you. You’re literally deciding that compound interest should work against you.
Many loanees have a hard time securing jobs which makes it harder to pay back. If you have a job, at the very least, choose to do the minimum payment to avoid the hefty penalties.
All other FAQs can be found on this page of their website.
What is it like to be debt-free?
When this year began, I had 2 financial goals:
- To put as much money as I could towards my debt freedom.
- To get my monthly passive income to match my monthly expenses.
Yaaay! Goal one is officially done and dusted.
All the money that I was putting towards debt payment will now go towards making the second goal a reality.
1. Being debt-free makes you feel like you can accomplish anything!
This motivates you to work harder, save more and invest so that you can attain the ultimate goal, financial freedom.
2. Debt freedom also means that you’ll be less anxious about your financial well being.
This translates to better sleep. Remember that this article started with a life-threatening call? I no longer have to worry about such. Freedom and peace of mind is by far the greatest benefit of the debt-free life.
3. You can accomplish your financial goals quicker when you’re debt-free.
No more money is going towards paying hefty interest rates and debt in general. All your money belongs to you!
I often tell my clients who are stuck in debt that debt freedom is something they can also accomplish. Well, from 8th April 2021, I officially began walking my talk!
4. It feels like getting a raise
One of the fastest ways to attain debt freedom is by asking for a raise from your employer. When you have more money, you can pay off your debt faster. Being debt-free feels like you’ve gotten a raise because you have more money that remains in your possession.
5. Your net worth grows faster!
This might be obvious, but when you’re in the habit of updating your net worth excel sheet every month, you will see that your net worth is growing faster!
You will pile up your cash faster if you don’t have to give it to lenders and credit card companies. The sooner you realize this, the faster you can start stacking your money.
6. Debt freedom reduces the risk of financial failure
Every day, we hear stories of people whose assets are repossessed by banks, shylocks, and other money lenders. In most cases, it’s an embarrassing scuffle that affects their mental well-being. Having loads of debt, without a debt payment plan, can lead to financial failure.
Many people who are drowning in debt end up filing for bankruptcy. Being debt-free reduces the risk of financial failure as you’re fully in charge of financing your lifestyle.
What to do after paying all debt
Many people attain debt freedom and then immediately fall back into the debt trap. I don’t blame them and I don’t think I’m immune to the same because we live in a world that is designed to keep us stuck in debt.
For example, my bank just doubled my credit card limit without my consent. They should have at least waited for me to celebrate a full month of debt freedom before shoving such a temptation down my throat!
To avoid such temptations, you should have a plan for your money after you attain debt freedom.
You should also take time to think about your relationship with debt going forward. Debt is a financial tool that you can use to attain your goals if used wisely.
I’ll keep using my credit card to pay for all my bills and pay the debt in full at the end of each month as a way to earn reward points and improve my credit score. If you’d like to learn how to do the same, read this article.
Being debt-free doesn’t automatically mean that you’re wealthy, I’m not. In fact, I’m far from it and still asking ‘God, when?’ daily. But I do hope that this article has taught you that a debt-free life is not something reserved for the rich!
Ready to stop being a slave to debt?
Click here to download an easy to use debt payoff planner and debt payment calculator.
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